O's pick up where they left off Year later, 7-2 trip West again is a Labor of hope

September 06, 1993|By Jim Henneman | Jim Henneman,Staff Writer

OAKLAND, Calif. -- If there is a feeling of deja vu about the Orioles' current position in the American League's Eastern Division race, it is for good reason.

Only a year ago they were in an almost identical situation, returning home for Labor Day from a 7-2 West Coast trip, only 1 1/2 games out of first place. They proceeded to lose five out of six at home to fall five games off the pace and effectively drop out of the race.

The Orioles return home today to start a six-game homestand after a Western trip that also ended with a 7-2 record. This time they are 2 1/2 games behind Toronto and New York, who are tied for first. If the Orioles are going to become a fixture in the race, this is where the similarities must end.

Maybe it's because of their personnel, or perhaps it's the circuitous route they have taken to get to this point, but the Orioles, who finished their sweep of Oakland yesterday, 9-2, don't acknowledge a great deal of similarity between this year and last.

"To be honest with you, I don't remember much about last year, I haven't even thought about it," said first baseman David Segui, who is a much more integral part of this team.

Shortstop Cal Ripken said he didn't think there was much to compare. "Maybe it's because of the [slow] start we had," said the All-Star shortstop. "I guess there are some similarities, but it seems different to me the way we got to this point. We didn't have the good start, and we had to endure some injuries."

With yesterday's win over the Athletics, the Orioles completed a trip that began on the brink of disaster and ended with seven straight wins.

"It's the same situation as we were in last year," said Mike Mussina, who improved his record to 14-5 with eight strong innings in the final game of the road trip.

"When we went home [last Labor Day], we were right there [in the race], but we played very poorly in September. We took ourselves out of it. Hopefully this year the younger guys, myself included, will take it a little more in stride and make a better run at it."

Asked what made him feel better about the Orioles' chances, Mussina thought for a moment and then replied: "[Harold] Baines, [Mike] Pagliarulo, [Rick] Sutcliffe again, Cal [Ripken] -- the guys that have been there.

"There are not many guys in this clubhouse who've had a chance to run out on the field and celebrate [a division title]," said Mussina. "Those guys have."

Any thoughts the Orioles had about a division title were remote as recently as nine days ago. They had lost two in a row to the Texas Rangers, who were talking of entering a division race at the same time the Orioles appeared to be playing their way out of one.

At different points on the just concluded road trip, the Orioles were in fifth place (last Sunday) and six games out of first (last Monday). The seven-game winning streak not only pushed the Detroit Tigers and Boston Red Sox a comfortable distance behind them, it put the Orioles back in a position to determine their own fate.

"Let's give those guys in uniform out there a lot of credit," said manager Johnny Oates, who usually disdains any discussion of the team's standing. "Things weren't looking too good after those two games in Texas.

"We weren't playing very well, we weren't hitting, it was hot and we were dragging. But [Jamie] Moyer pitched a great game and got us going again.

"Now we're close enough to make it exciting. We've reached the point where this homestand should be interesting," said Oates.

If the Orioles have any advantage at this point, it is a twofold one involving their home park at Camden Yards, where they will play 16 of the last 25 games.

After winning nine of their first 10, the Orioles finished only 43-38 at home in 1992. So far this year they are 41-24 (the second-best home mark in the AL behind the Yankees' 46-26) and have gone 31-12 since June 4.

The Yankees, who are 32-34 on the road, have only nine more home games. The Blue Jays, with the best road record (37-32) of the three teams, have 12 games left at home. The Orioles, who have a nine-game road trip to Boston, Milwaukee and Cleveland after this homestand, finish with their last 10 at Camden Yards -- the final seven against the Yankees (3) and Blue Jays (4).

At this point, however, it is far more important for the Orioles to stay focused on the team at hand. The Seattle Mariners, who open a three-game series tonight, are playing better than they have in three years. They have just completed an 8-3 homestand that included winning three of four from the Blue Jays, who lost five of seven to the Mariners over a 10-day period.

The Orioles say it won't be difficult staying focused on the task at hand.

"It will be very easy for me," said Oates. "This [the series with the Mariners] should be a great matchup."

Second baseman Harold Reynolds, a former Mariner, echoes his manager. "They have a lot of exciting players and real good pitching," he said, after going 3-for-5 with three RBI yesterday. "And those guys don't quit."

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